The National Arts Festival has passed the halfway mark. Yes, this means that Festival goers still have another four days to immerse themselves in and absorb art of the highest echelons of South Africa’s artistic capacity. On the jazz side of things, however, this specific point in the Arts Festival is a significant landmark, as it signals the completion of yet another highly successful Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Festival.
Although we are still eagerly awaiting the appearances of South African jazz giants Hugh Masekela and Lira, as well as the Kyle Shepherd (Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz 2014) Trio, the journey has ended for the young stars of the National Youth Jazz Festival. The conclusion of their career inspiring five days in Grahamstown did not arrive without a climatic bang.
We need only cast our minds back to day one of the National Youth Jazz Festival to recall that more than 300 young jazz musicians auditioned to try gain a spot in one of two elite youth bands, namely the National Schools’ Big Band and the National Youth Jazz Band. Only four days later these very bands would perform concerts resembling those of experienced, professional bands – not bands where the conductor has to think twice before announcing the name of a player.
How did they manage to pull of such a feat? Well, apart from the fact that the musicians in these two bands are simply brilliant for their age, intensive rehearsing took place in the four days leading up to their performances - and what makes this particular jazz festival unique, is that much of this preparation was facilitated and driven by current jazz stars.
Almost sixty professional musicians were involved with the teaching and lecturing of specific electives at the National Youth Jazz Festival. Some of these electives included ‘Intro to Jazz Sax’ with Buddy Wells, ‘Piano Workshop’ with Afrika Mkhize, ‘Jazz Choir’ with Babalwa Mpulu and ‘Hip Hop for Social Change’ with South African hip hop artist Jitsvinger. With such expert facilitation it is no surprise that the National Schools’ Big Band and National Youth Jazz Band wowed their audiences at the Diocesan School for Girls on Monday night.
It is with no doubt that this year’s National Youth Jazz Festival was a roaring success. Its biggest achievement was not that it necessarily taught the students new things, but that it inspired in them a motivation to work hard towards achieving a desired level. Being able to walk and talk with jazz giants has allowed these young artists to see themselves in those very positions in years to come – positions that are not out of reach, but very much attainable.
Written by Denzil de Klerk Follow him on Twitter: @DenzDK
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